Cause and Effect

I was in a local big box store over the weekend. There in the seasonal aisle section what did I see? There were Halloween decorations, costumes, and candy by the bagful . . . and amazingly there were also lots and lots of Christmas decorations, ranging from lighted trees to bows and ribbons.

Really, in September?

My guess is retailers are trying to get a jump on the Holiday shopping season. This is, after all, their biggest shopping “bonanza” of the year.

K-Mart’s New “Not Christmas” Commercial

This got me to thinking that if retailers can get a jump on the commercial side of the Holiday season, why can’t we/they also be thinking about service and making a difference in our communities in ways other than going after the almighty dollar? In other words, what causes can businesses—large, small, entrepreneurs—and even individuals support?

About 18 months ago, I wrote a blog about how cause marketing allows businesses to “do good” while also doing themselves some good, and I want to share it again with you below. It’s only mid-September. There’s still plenty of time for you to adopt a cause and do some good for you, your customers, and a local group, charity, or non-profit.

One such cause near and dear to my heart is the Huntington’s Disease Society of America San Diego Chapter’s “Celebration of HOPE Gala 2014” coming up on Friday, October 17, at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. This event features great food and drinks, dancing, an exciting live and silent auction, and talks from Steve Fisher, Head Coach, SDSU Men’s Basketball; Mike Mccoy, Head Coach, San Diego Chargers; and Bud Black, Manager, San Diego Padres. (For more info, visit www.hdsa.org/hopegala2014 or contact Stephanie Alband at salband@HDSA.org or 619-225-2255.)

BOM-Cause-MarketingA Good Cause: Not Just for Philanthropists Anymore

(Originally posted on January 9, 2013)

These days, as consumers, we expect the businesses we frequent to be concerned with more than just their bottom lines. Sure, we still demand top quality products and services, but merely satisfying our demand for materials, things, and know-how just doesn’t cut it anymore. Businesses need to stand for something, preferably something bigger than just their bottom lines. We expect the businesses we patronize to support causes near and dear to our hearts.

That’s where cause marketing (or cause-related marketing) comes in, and it can be an important part of your marketing tool kit whether you operate a big business or a small one.

Cause marketing differs from philanthropy, which is essentially giving money or time to an organization and expecting nothing in return (other than maybe a tax write-off). While the general idea with cause marketing remains to “do good” for unselfish reasons, its real power comes from how everyone involved truly benefits:

  • Cause marketing is a win for the group, charity, or non-profit involved because it gets an influx of much needed money, materials, manpower, and community awareness.
  • It’s a win for those who benefit from the organization/charity’s good work, such as gaining better access to necessary products, services, supplies, shelter, capital, or expertise.
  • It’s a win for participating businesses that extends far beyond their simply “feeling good” about what they’re doing. Cause-related marketing that’s linked to a company’s overall marketing efforts helps them benefit through increased awareness, stronger community ties, improved staff and team cohesion, higher employee morale, and greater brand loyalty.

Cause marketing also help businesses win new customers and attract new employees. Studies show that the vast majority of consumers will switch brands, all other things being equal, if the brand they are considering switching to supports a cause more aligned with their values. Similarly, socially responsible companies tend to be the destination of choice for prospective employees.

One of the most recent and successful examples of cause-related marketing is the “Movember Foundation,” which involves men being sponsored to grow their mustaches for 30 days during November. Designed to raise awareness of prostate cancer and other male cancers, a whole “culture” has sprouted up around the annual “Movember” event, with participants affectionately known as “Mo-Bros” and their female supporters “Mo-Sistas.” It’s great fun and great name recognition for businesses and individuals involved, plus it generates lots of donations and awareness—case in point: in 2011 alone, some 850,000 Movember participants raised in excess of $125 million dollars worldwide!

Mark Addicks, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer at General Mills,
talks about connecting consumers to cause marketing.

Of course, cause marketing does not need to have global reach to be effective or worthwhile. Look to your own backyard. Chances are you’ll find plenty of local groups and organizations ripe for a partner willing to help them raise awareness and donations. Just think of all your community nonprofits, from youth services, church groups, health care organizations, and other charities. Chances are any and all are hungry for attention from the local business community, whether it’s in the form of monetary contributions, donations of materials, or simply having additional “warm bodies” to help out during especially high times of demand for their services (such as over the holidays or in winter months).

Many successful cause-marketing efforts take advantage of the reach of the Internet, notably efforts like “Movember” and online sales/auctions where sellers donate percentages of their proceeds to certain charities and organizations. Add the power of social media—from Facebook and Twitter, to LinkedIn and a host of others—and spreading the word about a particular cause has gotten easier and a whole lot more effective in recent years.

Of course, choosing the right cause for your business and your marketplace can be a challenge. Start by asking yourself if a particular cause aligns with your values. Now ask if the cause aligns with the values of your clients/customers and how they have come to view your company (and don’t forget to consider your employees). Choose your cause unwisely and you may do your business more harm than good.

Here are some examples of effective “community-based” cause-marketing approaches that can be scaled big or small:

  • Organize ways community members can donate to charities at the supermarket checkout (such as for schools and youth programs).
  • Donate proceeds from the sales of your products to designated charities.
  • Join others in helping to increase public awareness for heart disease, HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, and other causes by donating time, staff, money, and resources.
  • Engage in local partnerships and volunteerism with charitable groups and organizations.
  • Sponsor a local team, league, or event and encourage your staff to participate.

Do you know what causes are important to your clients and prospects? How might you support these causes, either through donations of money, your time, or both?

Share your ideas (and your results) here.

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Meetings that Deliver

We’ve all been there: meetings that are at conceivably the worst times possible, lack focus, just seem to go on endlessly with little to show for progress, or tend to become forums for self-aggrandizement.

  • It’s Monday morning and someone had the bright idea to kick off the week with an early morning meeting. So-and-so, who tends to drone on and on, is doing his best impersonation of the adult “mwa-mwa-mwa-mwa” voice from the old Charlie Brown cartoons. If you’re not careful, you just might return to your blissful slumber of just a few hours ago. Luckily, you had the foresight to stop for a 20-oz high-octane coffee on the way in.
  • It’s late Friday afternoon. Your family awaits you at home so you can all embark on a weekend getaway, only someone has scheduled a meeting at the last minute. Luckily, so-and-so isn’t here, but what’s-her-name is, and she has more energy than any human should be allowed to have on a Friday afternoon . . . and she just wants to keep going and going and going with new ideas, new topics, and a whole lot of “wouldn’t it be great ifs.” You notice you’re not the only one stealing a glance at your watch.
  • A colleague, who you’ve nicknamed “Laurence” (as in Olivier) is at it again—using the meeting as a personal self-promotion platform rather than an actual forum. It’s all about him and his team, rather than what needs to get done . . . and the act is getting old. Can’t anyone take charge? Won’t anyone speak up?

If any of these scenarios sounds familiar, you are not alone. A 2012 article from HR News Daily reveals that 47% of employees say that meetings are the biggest time wasters at work, compared to only 18% for accessing the internet for non-work related content, accounting for billions in lost productivity. With numbers like that and corporate profits still shaky after the “Great Recession,” boosting the effectiveness of your meetings sure seems like a no-brainer to me (talk about low hanging fruit)!

BOM Meeting Time Wasters

I’m a marketer at heart. It’s in my blood and it’s my career path. It should come as no surprise then that I tend to view meetings with a marketing mindset:

  • What conditions have led to the need for this meeting (pain points)?
  • When does this meeting need to happen to be most effective (timing)?
  • Who’s the target audience (who absolutely needs to be there)?
  • What do participants (including me) hope to get out of the meeting (expectations)?
  • How can meeting content/messages be delivered in a way that connects with participants?
  • What do I want attendees to take away, do as a result of this meeting (call to action)?
  • How will I know the meeting has been a success?
  • Is this a one-and-done meeting, or will we need additional sessions (frequency)?
  • What happens after the meeting? What’s next?

The only thing worse than NOT holding a meeting when one is necessary, is to hold a meeting that wastes people’s time and talent and energy. In some circles, bad meetings are the stuff of office legend . . . and the fear of many a potential participant.

Below are some of this King Monkey’s ideas on how you can get more out of your meetings so they deliver consistently. This clearly is not an exhaustive list, and I don’t really dabble in the “parliamentary procedure” aspect of meetings. That’s just a little too constricting for me. Instead, these suggestions are more big picture in nature and apply to in-person as well as virtual (phone/Web) meetings.

  • As with marketing, timing is everything. When should you hold your meetings? Chances are, if you run on a traditional, Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 schedule, first thing Monday morning and end-of-day Friday are probably the least favorable times for productive meetings. Either people will be just getting back into work mode after the weekend break, or they will be ready to “coast” late in the week. I tend to find the Tues-Wednesday-Thursday window most effective, especially in mid-morning or mid-afternoon.
  • Start your meetings on time and end them promptly. Avoid “where is everybody?” scenarios or having attendees begin to wonder, “Will this ever end?” Indicate a clear beginning time and end time, and if the business of the meeting can’t be conducted within that window, schedule a follow-up. Meetings that take all or half of the day are rarely productive as the hours drag on. Invariably, attendees suffer from meeting fatigue and begin to think of all the “real” work they have to get done once the meeting ends!
  • Set expectations before the meeting. You don’t want your attendees wondering, “Why am I here?’ or “What do we want to accomplish?” Send out a meeting agenda or email that properly sets the stage.
  • Keep meetings simple. At most, meetings should have 2 or 3 critical goals (or better yet, just one), that are clearly spelled out ahead of time so participants can prepare. If you’re meeting can’t be made simple, that’s probably a clear indicator you need separate meeting to address other topics.
  • If you’re in charge of the meeting, be in charge. Don’t be rude, but if someone is dominating the meeting or using it as his or her self-promotional platform, step in and redirect the conversation.
  • Don’t be afraid to laugh or crack a joke. Varying speech patterns and speed, not to mention injecting a little humor now and then, can go a long way to keeping energy levels up and people tuned in. From boring college professors to flat-voiced CEOs, we’ve all been there . . . and we don’t ever want to go back.
  • Make sure people got what they needed. Before breaking, summarize what you think was said or accomplished, and ask others to confirm what you heard or correct you.
  • Spell out required actions or follow-up. No one should leave the meeting empty-handed (if someone does, that person probably didn’t need to be there). Every attendee should have some sort of follow-up required of him or her, with clear expectations and timelines spelled out. It’s all about accountability.

BOM Meetings - Spell Out The Actions

  • Switch up venues and routines. Change your meeting place from time to time. Ditch the stuffy old boardroom and go off site. Meet in the hallway, the break room, or in the park! Don’t sit in the same chair all the time. If you’re video conferencing, give others something fun to look at in the background instead of a plain white wall. Variety is the spice of life; it can also add some spice to your meetings and keep participants energized!
  • Vary how you deliver meeting content. These days you shouldn’t have to work hard to set up various multimedia platforms to deliver meeting content. Whether it’s a PowerPoint, a YouTube video you think everyone should see, a Web site, an audio recording, a Webinar, or even a taste test with free samples, don’t be afraid to engage the senses. People learn and hear and process information in different ways, and they’ll appreciate not having to listen to you (or some other speaker) run through the latest 10 bullet points on a piece of paper every time you meet. The change of pace will engage people and make them more likely to anticipate your meetings rather than avoid them.
  • Sometimes the best meetings are spontaneous ones. When the moment arises, don’t wait. Have the meeting right on the spot while the topic is fresh. Cover it and move on quickly!

Meetings don’t have to be the dreaded “M” word. Meetings can be creative. Meetings can be a source of ideas, or a place to share them. And meetings can be fun.

What’s your worst meeting horror or success story? Have there been times when a meeting went particularly well? What made it so? If there’s been a time that a meeting went bad, why was that?

Share your experiences here.

For additional reading on the topic, check out Boring Meetings Suck by John Petz and Make Meetings Work by Michael Doyle.

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Back At It

It’s post-Labor Day, which means it’s time to put the summer vacation plans in the rear mirror and look ahead to Fall and beyond. For many of us, it also means it’s time to “get back at it” school-wise, business-wise and even career-wise after the summer doldrums, what with family vacations, schools being out, and just trying to soak up some of that sweet sunshine while you can.

For me, there’s no better way to “get back at it” than to look forward to upcoming networking opportunities in the coming weeks and months. I’m not suggesting you attend every conceivable get-together or forum—I don’t—but rather pick and choose those most appropriate for you and what you are hoping to get and give by participating.

Whether you are an executive, a solo entrepreneur, or even a recent college graduate looking to jumpstart your career, networking might be just the medicine you and your business need.

Back in February 2013, I wrote a blog on the basics of networking, so without further ado here it is again. Enjoy!

It Takes a Network

(Originally posted on February 28, 2013)

Regular readers of my blog know that I believe networking is one of the most vital activities necessary for success, whether you are looking to jump into a new career, jumpstart and old one, grow your business, increase your exposure, learn more about a new locale, or meet new faces. The people you know and the people you don’t know yet—whether you network in-person or only virtually—are your most critical assets.

BOM Networking Basics

But like a lot of things in life, what’s most important isn’t always what’s popular or fun or easy. A visit to the dentist’s office is certainly not at the top of my fun list, but it’s important, just as taking my car to the dealer for an oil change is important, but no fun.

Unfortunately for some, networking is a lot like a visit to the dentist. They don’t like it, but they do it anyway because they know it’s important. For me, I happen to enjoy networking. I’m a people person by nature, so any chance to chat it up with others is welcome. But I do recognize that networking is hard work . . . even for me, just as eating right and working out is hard work (unless, of course we’re talking volleyball!). But I do try to eat right and work out. Why? I not only like the results, I need the results to keep me fit and trim and full of energy. Networking is a lot like that. It’s hard work, especially if it doesn’t come naturally, but the results are worth it.

Here are some tried and true suggestions for those who struggle with networking events:

  • HAVE A PLAN. Networking is about more than showing up for cocktails and finger food. Sure, there is a lot of that, but it’s really nothing more than the stage upon which real networking takes place. Attend a networking event with questions you want answered, an idea of specific people you want to meet, and information you are ready and willing to share with others to help them. And bring a supply of business cards and plan to distribute 5, 10, or 20 or more to prospects and/or industry contacts (and be sure to get their cards as well!). The key to success is to have some sort of goal in mind that will keep you focused and purposeful. Otherwise, once you’ve sipped a cocktail and had your fill of the buffet line, what are you going to do?
  • YOUR INTENTIONS ARE IMPORTANT. If you’re just looking to get others to help you by making connections for you or providing you with information, you probably won’t get very far. Approach networking as a way for YOU to help others, as a way to serve. Be a mentor. Act as a resource. Be the one to help others make connections. You’ll not only feel great about your efforts—which is payback enough—but I have found that when I help others, the help that I need often finds its way to me.
  • DON’T BE SHY. I know many find this the toughest part of networking—the kissing babies and shaking hands phase—but don’t be a wallflower. Engage others in conversation. If you have difficulty talking about yourself, ask others about their companies, their careers, the products they make, the challenges and triumphs they’ve encountered, their goals, etc. By getting others to open up about themselves, you can often ratchet your own discomfort level down a notch or two so that conversation comes easier and you can begin to describe how you might help them.
  • BE AUTHENTIC. When you do talk with others, actually LISTEN and show genuine interest. Smile, laugh, look, and dress comfortably. Be the real you, because when you’re not comfortable in your own skin, others will be uncomfortable around you, which is certainly a recipe for disaster.
  • FOLLOW-UP and FOLLOW-THROUGH. If you collected business cards, names and emails, follow-up after the event with a short, “nice to meet you” note or phone call. And if you promised anyone more information or a follow-up call, be sure you deliver on all promises made. First impressions are lasting impressions, and making a bad first impression will be your last impression. Guaranteed.
  • APPLY THESE SAME GUIDELINES TO ONLINE NETWORKING. Just because an event is online, doesn’t change any of the above. The setting may be different, but you still need a plan and the right intentions and follow-through to make the most of your networking opportunities.

The Key to Networking? Sound expert Julian Treasure shares five ways to re-tune your ears for conscious listening to other people and to the world around you.

Some of the ways I network and serve others are through San Diego Sports Innovators (http://www.sdsportinnovators.org); the Southern California Venture Network (http://www.scvn.org/); the American Marketing Association (www.ama.org); and various University of San Diego Alumni Events (http://www.sandiego.edu/alumni/alumnirelations/).

Online, I have found lots of networking success and opportunities through LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/in/pauljune).

What has your networking experience been like? What groups do you participate in? What kinds of events do you attend? How do you serve others?

Share your experiences here.

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Taking Care of Business Means Taking Care of Self

Do you focus more on the health of your business than you do your personal wellness? What if I told you the two go hand-in-hand?

If you are not rested, stress-free, and well-nourished, there’s no way you can maintain the high energy and focus required to build and maintain a successful business. Your business health requires you to be in tiptop form physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

BOM-Self-Health2

  • Don’t fill your days up with busy work that wears you down. Being busy and being productive are not the same. No client calls today? Indulge in some personal or professional development time, or even some down time. Don’t fill your days up with unnecessary administrative clutter that may make you feel better temporarily, but actually just wears you out, keeping you from getting to the important stuff.
  • Just say “no” to all-nighters. Sure, you might have to work until the wee hours occasionally to get done what needs doing, but when it becomes a habit you’re actually losing ground, not gaining. You might think you’re being productive, but are you really? Chances are you’ll get more out of the time you put in when you do so with a rested mind and rested body. Get the sleep you need, and get back at it bright and early.
  • No time for exercise, or to eat a healthy breakfast/lunch/dinner you say? That’s a bunch of monkey BS. You can’t afford NOT to exercise or eat healthy. Try it. Give yourself permission for a mid-day break or early morning walk or jog or session in the gym. Take a few minutes to prepare and eat a balanced meal (just say “no thanks” to the convenience of fast food and microwave quickies). Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you. Your energy levels will thank you—and you’ll find you actually get more done. One way to ensure you always have the time for exercise and to eat well is to schedule that time into your regular day. For some ideas on healthy eating, check out Ground-Based Nutrition.
  • Get physical. If you’re more into team sports than daily exercise, check out local sports leagues such as volleyball, bowling, softball, swimming. You name it, there are sure to be outlets for people just like you looking for some team activities and exercise. Check out your local Y or fitness clubs for info. For some ideas on how you might integrate the sports and business aspects of your life, check out San Diego Sport Innovators and Miss Mission Beach.
  • Get an app to track your daily food intake/exercise activity. For little or nothing, you can download food diaries, calorie counters, exercise trackers, and even shopping apps to help you make healthier choices and stay fit. You’d be surprised how doing such a small thing can make a big difference in the way you shop, eat, and work out.

CBSNews.com’s technology editor Chenda Ngak shares some apps that can help you monitor your sleeping patterns, heart rate and exercise.
  • Take vacation. Really. Go away and get away. Disconnect if you have to. While we all like to think we are business tough guys and gals, the reality is everyone can benefit from a little time away from the grind. A constant focus on business can wear on the mind and our emotions and detract from time we should be spending on important relationships. And if you’re able, don’t be afraid to treat yourself to an occasional afternoon off. A few hours away from the office, especially if unexpected, can do wonders for the spirit. They don’t call it “attitude adjustment” for nothing. For a unique way to exercise your body and spirit, visit Splash of Passion, for the ultimate ride at Rockin’CW Ranch
  • Don’t forget your spiritual well-being. Whether it’s organized religion or simply marveling at the wonders of Mother Nature, don’t give short shrift to the importance spirituality plays in your overall health. We all need to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. Such a sense of community and belonging can do wonders to lift us in those moments when we feel down.
  • Breathe. Okay, I know our autonomic nervous system usually has us covered here, but what I really mean is to breathe deeply every now and then. Oxygen is good for the brain and the body, and deep, intentional, centering breaths can help reduce stress. Plus, you can do this anywhere, anytime. In fact, try it right now.
  • Get out of that chair! Sitting for long periods has been linked to all sorts of health maladies—from blood clots and high blood pressure to abnormal cholesterol levels and musculoskeletal disorders. Stand up. Stretch. Take a walk. Look out the window . . . get a glass of water.
  • Drink water. Sugary sodas and coffee can sometimes give us the boost we need, but water is the go-to for hydration, which can keep us more alert and productive. Add a slice of lemon or lime for a little taste boost!
  • When you’re not feeling well, go to the doctor if the situation warrants (I’m not talking going to the doctor for every sniffle or hang nail here). Doctor’s don’t bite, really, so don’t try to tough it out. You’ll just get worn down and lose energy and focus, which are sure fire prescriptions for business setbacks.
  • Set daily goals. Setting goals can keep you focused and energized. Make a list. Use a calendar. And don’t forget to check off each item you get done. You might be surprised how rewarding ticking those items off the to-do list can be!

How do you look after your personal well-being? Have there been times when your business has suffered because you haven’t looked after yourself?

Discuss your experiences and suggestions here.

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Difficult Conversations Don’t Have to Lead to Hurt Feelings

One of the things I’ve learned in my career as a Marketing and Product Development Executive and Entrepreneur is that difficult conversations are often necessary and productive.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the phrase “difficult conversations” the first things that spring to mind are images of people arguing and going away with hurt feelings. That should never happen. The key is focusing on conversation, which infers a meaningful exchange of dialogue. Arguments are hardly ever about that—they’re more about who can speak loudest or toss out the most hurtful barbs. Conversations, on the other hand, are all about articulating a position, listening for and hearing feedback, and responding to what you’ve heard. They are constructive exchanges (at least they should be).

As adults, we’d all like to think we’ve got this “difficult conversation” thing licked, that we’re not about to avoid saying what needs saying, and that we can do so in a constructive, civil, and gracious manner. We may be adults, but we’re still people, and with that comes emotions and fears—all of which can be overcome with the proper mindset about difficult conversations.

About 18 months ago, I wrote a blog on the topic, complete with some handy tips on how you and a colleague, loved one, family member, or even a complete stranger can engage in a difficult—yet constructive—conversation. Enjoy!

Tough Conversations Can Be Difficult—Even Fierce—But They’re Worth It

(Originally posted on March 27, 2013)

It’s easy to tell people what they want to hear. After all, politicians do it all the time (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). But what about what people need to hear, whether it’s good news or bad, or something in-between? What about those “tough” conversations, which some might even call “fierce”?

BOM-Tough-Decision

I don’t know anybody who enjoys a tough conversation, whether you’re the originator or the recipient of one. Most of us seem to go out of our way to avoid them. Maybe we’re hoping issues will resolve themselves or simply go away if left alone long enough; maybe we’re embarrassed that circumstances have led us to the point where a “fierce” conversation is necessary; or maybe we’re simply uncomfortable speaking frankly with a friend, loved one, or business associate. We fear we’ll make matters worse or tarnish a relationship that’s important to us  . . . or simply don’t know where (or how) to start.

Of course avoidance never really works. Avoidance tends to make issues fester, expand, and grow far worse than if we had simply addressed them early on, making the inevitable difficult conversation even tougher.

What is a tough conversation?

As with most things, what makes a conversation “tough” or “difficult” is all a matter of perspective. What’s difficult for one person, may not be for another. In general, I define a tough or difficult conversation as any exchange with another person that makes you feel uncomfortable or anxious.

This includes conversations with . . .

  • Your boss, business partner, member of your team, or direct report
  • Your clients, vendors, suppliers, and/or independent contractors
  • Colleagues, competitors, and other business associates
  • Your spouse or significant other
  • A sibling, parent, child, or other family member
  • Friends and neighbors
  •  . . . and even the paperboy or girl!

You get the picture. Difficult or fierce conversations encompass all aspects of our lives. They are not just professional or just personal. They can be both.

For example . . .

  • Maybe you didn’t understand an assignment, or didn’t think your boss explained a project clearly or has reasonable expectations of you.
  • Maybe you delegated work to a direct report and aren’t fully satisfied with results-to-date or the quality of the work.
  • Maybe you feel as though your business partner is trying to do too much (or too little) and you want your partner to stick to what he or she does best.
  • Maybe your child or spouse or friend or family member is engaging in behavior that you find troubling and that you fear will jeopardize your relationship with him or her, or worse his or her well-being.

All of these scenarios (as well as countless others) are ripe for difficult conversations, especially if there are patterns of behavior you’ve been meaning to address. But where do you begin?

  • First, realize that a difficult/fierce conversation is about being upfront and direct about an issue or situation that needs addressing.
  • Invite a friend, loved one, or business associate to have a conversation with you. State the purpose of the conversation, “We need to talk about (the behavior/situation/issue).”
  • Be clear about your purpose for the conversation, “I want to understand (why, what you meant)” or “I want to address (something that happened)” or “I want to clear up a misunderstanding about (an issue or situation or person).”
  • Share how the situation or issue is affecting you or someone else. Be specific about how you or someone close to you has been impacted. Use examples, such as “When you said (this) it made me do/feel (this way)” or “When you (acted this way) it caused me (or someone else) to (do this).”
  • Confirm the other person’s intent relative to the situation or issue, such as, “When you said or did (this), did you mean (for this) to happen? What was your intention?”
  • Make a request to resolve the issue or situation and ask the person to commit to it. For example, “I’m asking that (the behavior/situation) stop. Is this something you can agree to?”

Remember, a difficult conversation is NOT an argument. You’re not trying to prove you’re right and that someone else is wrong, nor are you trying to be confrontational, judgmental, or engage in editorializing. You are simply trying to understand why something happened and say what you need to say and get your point across in a way so that the other person listens.

Bringing key issues to light and addressing misconceptions and misunderstandings early on can help keep everyday issues manageable before they become lingering, long-term distractions. In the long run, having tough conversations actually does the opposite of what we fear the most. They do NOT destroy relationships, rather they build and cement stronger bonds . . . and it all starts with being upfront and genuine. See, that wasn’t so tough now, was it?

For more on this subject, check out Susan Scott’s book, Fierce Conversations.


Susan Scott talking about Fierce Conversation!

When is the last time you were upfront and direct about an issue or situation that needed addressing? When is the last time someone was upfront and direct with you? What difficult conversations have you had? Which have you avoided and why?

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Jumpstart Those Creative Juices

Whether you’re a prolific novelist, journalist, musician, poet, or blogger, I’ve got to believe one of the worst feelings in the world for a writer is to have writer’s block—to struggle to find the words when the words have always seemed to be there before. Ditto for content marketers, when the lifeblood of their businesses depends on the content they generate and the value they add to their customer experience.


Pretty Sweet Content Campaign!

When a blog is due, when your social media channels beckon for content that’s fresh and useful but the words and the ideas just aren’t there, where do you turn?

Luckily, there are some proven approaches to jumpstarting the creative juices. I even wrote about it a few years back. Here’s that blog again. Enjoy!

Tips and Techniques for Overcoming “Content Block”

(Originally posted on June 13, 2012)

Sometimes ideas just pop into our heads. Intuitively, we seem to know what to say or write about our product or service, or some incredible insight we want to share with the world. The ideas and words come freely, easily, as though they’re on auto-pilot.

Then there are other times when the ideas don’t flow or, if we have ideas, we can’t seem to find the words. This is what I call “content block.” Similar to writer’s block, when staring at a blank screen or empty sheet of paper sends even the most prolific of wordsmiths into a funk, content block is when you have something to sell, market, or communicate but you can’t come up with the words for your regular newsletter, blog, social media post, or that presentation tomorrow at your local chamber of commerce! There’s just nothing cooking, nothing leaping out at you saying, “talk/write about me.”

Content block can happen to anyone, anytime, whether you’re a marketing expert, sales professional, small business owner, or C-level executive. Granted, if you work for a big company with its own marketing and communications team, or you outsource creative to an agency, you can turn to someone else when content block strikes. But if you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur who both runs the business as well as markets it, where do you turn when the idea spigot runs dry?

BOM Audience Blog Graphic

Here are some “tried and true” ideas you can use to overcome content block and keep the ideas coming:

Generating/Capturing Ideas

  • How many times have you thought of some fantastic idea only to lose the notion later when you try to recall it? Problem solved: keep a journal, hand written or electronic (I use my smart phone and iPad to jot down notes). And many times, just the act of writing/typing something leads to additional ideas.
  • Think of some tip or “how to” advice your target audience needs or wants and that you can deliver, then write out the steps, such as “Ten steps to bringing your product to market.” It’s almost a sure thing that not only will you generate some good copy, but you’ll also spawn additional ideas.
  • Review a product—either yours or someone else’s you think your target audience is interested in: “I saw this product and here’s what I think…”
  • Conduct a Q&A interview with a well-known expert in your field. You know the saying, “guilt by association?” Well, I believe in “success by association.” Interview this expert and write about it. Now your target audience suddenly sees you operating in the same space as this well-known person.
  • Comment on something of relevance you’ve seen on YouTube, another Web site, in the news, etc. Discuss your reaction to it (positive or negative) and why your target audience should care.
  • Repurpose your own content by taking an excerpt from your existing presentations, articles, or books. This is a great way to update and get new life out of old content.
  • Relate a personal story or anecdote connected to your field of expertise, a “lesson learned” moment you want to share.
  • Make a “Top 10” list (or “Top 7” or “Top 5”), such as the “Top 5 reasons (xyz) happens” or the “Top 10 ways people use (your product).” Ranked lists are fun because they offer readers a chance to compare their rankings with yours, to validate their own thinking, or to open up discussion about what you’ve included vs. what they would have included.
  • Get great sales copy straight from your current customers and/or colleagues who know you well. Ask them either in-person (focus group) or through an electronic email or survey for verbatim comments so that you get a flavor of what people like about you and your product or service and how they might describe you to others. Often, you will find great language for sales and marketing copy—and at the very least, you will gain insight into what your target audience and colleagues perceive to be your strengths and weaknesses.

Developing Content

Blogs/Social Media

  • Readers of your blog or social media posts expect the writing to be informal and conversational. You’ll want to use proper English, but not be “stuffy.” Generally, you’ll want to write in first person (“I” and “You”) and speak to readers as though you are talking to them one-to-one.
  • Copy should be informational, not promotional. You also want to offer value to your readers, to position you/your company as credible expert in your particular field.
  • Try to stick to one topic per entry. For blogs, aim for 800 +/- words. For social media, entries should be MUCH shorter, preferably with a link to where a full story can be found.
  • Try to include pictures, video, or audio to add variety and to appeal to different learning/communications preferences.

Press Releases

  • News content should be objective, not promotional. Don’t just “news-ify” your advertising copy. Consider your audiences. Your first hurdle is the news editor. He or she must gauge whether what you are touting is newsworthy and of interest to his or her readers.
  • The first paragraph of your copy should tell the whole story. Concisely describe what’s happened, who’s involved, and the impact on readers, preferably in three sentences or less. The rest of the article can flesh out the story with details and quotes.

Web/Sales Copy/Presentations

  • Make an immediate emotional connection to your target audience. Speak to their “pain” or motivation—why they visited your Web site, picked up your brochure, or came to your presentation—and the need they want you to satisfy.
  • Help them “see” themselves—or who they want to become—in the words. Help them “see” the benefit (i.e. increase profits, save money, gain more clients, become more productive, etc.)
  • Demonstrate empathy—YOUR understanding of their needs, issues and wants (i.e. you’ve been there, you’ve already solved their challenge)
  • In one or two sentences, present YOURSELF as credible, citing relevant credentials, expertise, and experience. We’re not talking about including your CV here, but rather 2 or 3 relevant credentials, i.e. “nationally-known speaker and best-selling author.”
  • Make a “call to action.” Provide a simple low-risk, low-price way for your audience to connect with you: free e-newsletter, complimentary “get-to-know-you” session, low-cost product or service, or simply contacting you for more information.

How do you generate good content? From where do your ideas come?

Share your tips and techniques here, plus any lessons learned. Your monkey colleagues want to know!

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Saying No: It’s Harder than You Think

Do you have a hard time saying no?

Lots of people do, including me. It must have something to do with my entrepreneurial spirit or some fear that I’ll miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime. Or maybe I’ve just got this nurturing soul deep down inside that never wants to let anyone down . . . or maybe it’s a bit of all of these things, or something else altogether.

Funny thing is, people often tell me “no” and I rarely think twice about it. “No” is a fact of life. I accept it, and simply plan around the obstacle it presents. It’s no big deal and the planet doesn’t suddenly veer off course and crash into the sun, planes don’t fall from the sky, and the oceans don’t start to boil. In fact, the world keeps on spinning just fine, and somehow I get on with my life.

So what gives?

BOM-Just-Say-No-Best-Answer

My guess is the inability to say “no” is quite common. A little visit with my good friend Google and I find lots and lots of scholarly articles on the topic, and lots of not-so-scholarly articles. In one of the former, Psychology Today calls people who never say no, “People Pleasers.”

I’m sure you know some (I do).

These are the friends or family members you can always count on to be there to help you get your work done, to help you move, to help make all the arrangements, and offer a shoulder to lean on.

Funny thing is, Psychology Today says this behavior can ultimately be unhealthy for you. After all, if you’re always busy pleasing others, what about your needs? Who’s taking care of you?

When you’re always catering to others, when do you ever have time for yourself, mentally or physically? You don’t exercise. You don’t get good sleep. You get distracted, trying to please everyone else and do what you need to do for yourself. Your work suffers. Your home life suffers. Your health suffers. Eventually, you begin to resent others who ask you to do things for them—your boss, your spouse, your partner, or the guy or gal next door.


We could all use a little trunk monkey . . . once in a while.

It’s amazing how much chaos a simple two-letter word—or lack thereof—can cause. I guess there’s a lot more to this never saying “no” thing than I imagined.

Here are other reasons people don’t say no:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of rejection
  • They don’t want to miss out
  • They don’t want to disappoint parents, spouses, siblings, friends, etc.
  • They fear failure, and saying no (in their minds) is the same as failing
  • They are prone to self-sacrifice—putting other’s needs ahead of their own
  • They are deferential to people in positions of authority

. . . and the list goes on.

I can remember how, when I was just starting out in my career, I felt as though I could never tell my bosses “no.” What would they think, that I’m some sort of slacker, that I’m not willing to give my all? “Sure I’ll stay late tonight?” I’d say or “You need that 300-page report by Monday? No sweat.”

I think we’ve all been there, and it smacks more of being a means of self-preservation (or job-preservation) rather than some deep-seated emotional issue. Similarly, in my entrepreneurial pursuits, especially early on, being a people pleaser was more about paying the bills than being submissive.

And yet, there is a lesson to be learned. When you say “yes” all the time, what does this tell others about you? Are you a pushover? Will they respect you? Will they respect your boundaries (if you even have any)? And what happens if you say “yes” to something, and then fail to deliver? Who’s to blame there?

At a minimum, if you never say “no,” you run the risk of wearing yourself to a frazzle. I know, I’ve been there. You try to do it all, but sometimes there’s just not enough time in the day or gas in the tank. Your productivity and creativity suffers, to say nothing of your typically cheery mood, and the quality of your work has nowhere to go but down.

Sometimes “no” is the best answer you can give someone, especially when you do it constructively and graciously. Don’t go overboard apologizing for why you can’t say “yes” at a particular moment in time, and never make excuses, but do make a point of thanking the person asking for your help for the opportunity, especially if it’s a client or work colleague. He or she will come away appreciating your honesty and candidness . . . and maybe, just maybe, next time you won’t have to say no because the person will have learned a little bit about your boundaries and you will have earned some respect. Sometimes pushing back can be the best thing for all involved.

What has been your experience saying “no?” Do you find it easy or is it difficult? How do you react when someone says “no” to you?

Share your thoughts here . . . and I won’t take no for an answer.

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Look Before You Leap (otherwise, how do you know you’re solving the right problem?)

Do you LEAP before you LOOK?

Chance are you don’t . . . and chances are you wouldn’t buy a new car or home or invest money without first doing your homework.

Why then do many agencies start with “how” a thing is going to be done before first fully understanding what it is you want or need to accomplish?

For many, it’s because they are all about selling the tactics—the “things” or services they perform as an agency—rather than focusing on what your goals are (or helping you determine what they should be).

At Barrel O’Monkeyz, we don’t think it should be that way—actually just the opposite!—and it seems we’re not alone. Albert Einstein was right about lots of things (see his quote below), and Honest Abe Lincoln was no slouch either (he of the famous, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” quote, among many). Who are we to argue with such smart thinkers?

From Branding to Design to Social Media and Digital Media, we get to know our customers, their needs, and the marketplace in which they operate before we discuss tactics. After all, what might be the right tactic for one business might not be the right one for another. We ASSESS, we PLAN, and then we ACT to support your goals.

This way the work we do tells your story, not ours; this way you engage your audience in a way that’s socially authentic and connects to them emotionally.

BOM-Asking-Questions-Infographic

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Here’s the Problem . . .

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s recent comment, “To put it mildly, the world is a mess,” pretty much sums up the news these days. Seems like every potential hotspot, from the Middle East, to the Ukraine, to western US wildfires, are heating up . . . or worse.

This got me to thinking about how we react to problems when they arise. Some try to avoid them, some try to explain them away, and others tackle them head on.

I wrote a blog about problem solving a couple of years ago. While its focus was on problem solving of a much more personal, professional, and limited nature than world affairs, I think there the article still contains some sage advice, especially step 1, which is to be willing and able to recognize and admit a problem exists. Only then can we evaluate and diagnose what to do, before we set out to take corrective action.

Here is that blog again. May it help you solve a problem or two in your own corner of the world! Enjoy.

BOM - Admit Problem Exists

Problem Solving 101

(Originally posted on August 2, 2012)

Encountering a problem is not always the end of the world. Sure, it’s likely we’ll all encounter a catastrophic situation at some point in our lives, but by and large, our day-to-day business and personal problems can be managed and overcome. It’s how we react to these challenges that quite often determines success or failure.

What do you think the outcome would have been for our Apollo 13 astronauts had they failed to respond adequately when an oxygen tank exploded on their way to the moon back in 1970? While they had to abort the lunar landing, the entire crew returned safely to Earth. With some quick thinking and a planful approach to diagnosing the problem and their ways to overcome it, “Houston, we’ve had a problem” turned into “Houston, we’ve solved our problem” and a happy ending.

  • When a problem arises in your life, how do you react? When a relationship hits rough water, what do you do—shutdown and retreat, or do you thoughtfully look at the issues and attempt to fix them?
  • What about your business? If profits are down, do you just keep on doing the same thing, hoping the problem fixes itself, or do you diagnose what’s going wrong and put together a plan to fix it?

A lot of times I think we avoid our problems because it just seems easier to ignore them, hoping they’ll go away, and also because we fear failure. After all, if we attempt to fix a problem and it doesn’t work out—Ouch!—nothing hurts more. But choosing NOT to address a problem, in my book, is no different than failing to solve it. The problem persists, weighing you down, sapping your energy and enthusiasm. Addressing a problem, even if you fail, does at least one thing—it allows you to let go and move on.

  • When a problem arises for me, whether it’s personal or professional, the first thing I need to do is recognize and admit the problem exists (and that’s not always easy for this King Monkey to do!). The last thing any of us wants to do in either a relationship or with our businesses is admit there’s a problem. We all like to think we live “problem free” lives!
  • Once I’ve accepted there’s a problem, the next thing I do is evaluate and diagnose it. Just what is the nature of this problem? Is it a people/personnel issue, a product/service issue, a process issue, or is it some or all of these factors combined? (I tend to believe all problems can be looked at through the lens of each of these three factors.)

For example, a relationship issue might be simply that two people just aren’t right for each other (a personal issue) or it might be a “Mars vs. Venus” situation where what’s needed is a basic understanding that we all communicate a little differently (a process issue).

Similarly, if your marketing attempts are falling to connect with your audience, maybe it’s simply a matter of you and your team (personal/personnel) needing to understand the relationship of your customers and your product better (a product/service issue) and retooling your message (a process issue).

How many monkeyz does it take to … ?

“Chimpanzee Problem Solving through Cooperation”
  • Now comes the fun part—developing a treatment plan for how I’m going to solve or lessen the problem. This step is fun because I get to exercise my creative thinking muscles, but it’s also challenging. Just because you’ve diagnosed a problem doesn’t mean your action plan to fix it will be as successful as you want or need it to be (just look at our nation’s capital for an example of that). Life isn’t like a TV show where some hero is going to rush in and save the day. Further, there isn’t always a solution to every problem. Some things can’t be solved—at least not always to our satisfaction. But every problem can be addressed. Every problem can be identified, evaluated, diagnosed, and attempts made to solve it.

When we problem-solve, we might not always get exactly what we want or need, but how we react to problems—that we actually react, rather than simply avoiding them, hoping they go away—can teach us a lot about ourselves, what’s important, and how we respond under pressure.

What problems have you had to solve recently? What problems—personal or business-related—need your attention right now?

As a starter, try stepping back and evaluating your situation objectively. Then try one or two things—small things, big things, you be the judge—that move you and the situation forward. Feel that? That’s the burden you’ve been carrying lifting off your shoulders. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Share your problem-solving successes and “lessons learned” here.

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The Business Development Funnel

Are you operating at your full sales potential?

Business Development is all about identifying the right target audience for your product or service and building strong relationships to understand and meet client needs. In Business Development parlance, we know this as the “Sales Funnel.”

Into your “Sales Funnel” go all your prospects—and through relationship building, positioning, and delivering on your brand promise, out of the spout come loyal clients.

It’s a pretty simple formula, really, but of course the monkey is in the details of how best to move from “Prospecting” to “Cultivating” to “Positioning” to “Closing” . . . and at Barrel O’Monkeyz working the details and getting results is what we call fun!

BOM-Business-Devolpment-Infographic

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